The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission reports that the recent outbreak of hemorrhagic disease (HD) in white-tailed deer is cyclic and the population will rebound. Hemorrhagic disease is a common disease of deer caused by two types of viruses — one producing blue tongue and the other producing epizootic hemorrhagic disease. Tests of infected animals indicate that epizootic hemorrhagic disease appears to be the responsible virus for this year’s outbreak.
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HD tends to occur in North Carolina every year, although with varying degrees of severity and distribution. The disease typically dies off after the first frost. The counties in the Southern Appalachians with moderate HD activity this year are Swain, Clay, Cherokee, Macon and Transylvania counties.
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The HD viruses enter deer through insect bites, typically transported by a biting midge or gnat. Common symptoms of sick animals include emaciation, loss of motor control, fever, lameness, and swelling of the neck and head. Feverish deer often seek relief near cool bodies of water, resulting in a higher frequency of dead deer near water than on adjacent uplands. Deer that recover from an episode of HD develop immunity to future outbreaks and deer populations quickly recover from even severe hemorrhagic disease outbreaks.
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HD has no known human health implications, and there is no evidence that it can affect humans, dogs, cats or other domestic pets. Thus, hunters should not be concerned with eating venison from animals harvested in the area of HD outbreak because exposure to the virus does not pose a health risk to humans. As always, hunters should be cautious of consuming venison from any animal with obvious signs of illness.
Citizens should report dead or obviously sick looking deer to their local district biologist to help monitor the impact of the disease.